Not a lot has gone right for the Dodgers so far, and a lot went wrong on Wednesday night in New York when Carl Crawford dropped a fly ball in the ninth inning (it was generously ruled a double for Mike Baxter) that led to the tying run scoring, and then Jordany Valdespin hit a walk-off grand slam in the 10th to give the Mets a 7-3 victory.
The one bit of good news was that Matt Kemp finally hit his first home run. Now, the fact that it took Kemp 20 games to hit his first home run helps to partially explain why the Dodgers are 9-11; the fact that the roster includes five utility-infield quality players is certainly another, along with the injuries to Zack Greinke and now Chad Billingsley.
For the Dodgers to contend in 2013, they need Matt Kemp to be the Matt Kemp of 2011 and last April. We know Clayton Kershaw will be awesome, and we can expect a certain level of production from guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez when he returns from the disabled list, but it's Kemp, following offseason labrum surgery on his left shoulder, who is a bit of a wild card.
His home run came off a 95 mph Matt Harvey fastball in the sixth inning, but was hardly one of the Kemp-ian home runs we've grown used to. It was a 2-0 fastball down the middle and Kemp hit the ball down the right-field line, where it barely cleared the fence (the play had to be reviewed). Still, it was a home run and maybe will get Kemp going.
I looked at his hit chart, comparing 2011 to 2013 (heading into Wednesday's game), to see what's been going on.
As you can see, he hasn't been driving the ball at all, which perhaps shows he's still building strength in the shoulder. He hasn't done much on inside pitches -- after Wednesday, he's 6-for-27 (.222) with one walk. He feasted on those pitches in his MVP-runner-up season in 2011, hitting .402/.447/.698 with 14 home runs. If he's not hitting the inside pitch, he's that much more vulnerable to the stuff outside, which leads to him chasing pitches or hitting a lot of weak grounders.
One home run -- even off Harvey -- doesn't mean Kemp is back. Until he hits one of his patented big blasts to center field, or shows he can pull something to left with authority, I'll hold out. The Dodgers have scuffled along so far, which isn't cause for concern considering the injuries and offensive woes on the left side of the infield, but they'll likely continue to scuffle until Kemp goes on a tear.